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Documenting the quest to track down everything written by (and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio dramatist, Henry Reed.

An obsessive, armchair attempt to assemble a comprehensive bibliography, not just for the work of a poet, but for his entire life.

Read "Naming of Parts."

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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Cold Comfort Farm: Sensible Flora Poste moves in with her eccentric country relatives.
The Dog Stars: A man, his dog, and an airplane survive an apocalyptic flu.
The Sparrow: A Jesuit-led mission to a newly discovered planet.


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Posts from November 2005

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

28.7.2014


A Little Vincenzo

On March 29th, 1955, the BBC's Third Programme broadcast for the first time Henry Reed's radio play, Vincenzo. The play, advertised as a "tragi-comedy," was something of a prequel to Reed's 1952 The Great Desire I Had. Both plays recount episodes in the life of Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga (Wikipedia article), patron of the arts and ruler of the Italian Duchy of Mantua from 1587 to 1612.

The London Times called the play "splendidly acted," and "the happiest association of playwright and players" (March 31, 1955, p. 10). It was produced by Douglas Cleverdon, with music by Denis Stevens. It stars Hugh Burden (Internet Movie Database) as Vincenzo, Rachel Gurney as Ippolita Torelli (later of Upstairs, Downstairs), Gwen Cherrell as Margherita Farnese, Barbara Lott as Eleanora dé Medici, and Barbara Couper as Agnese del Ceretto.

The music was arranged by Denis Stevens (Guardian obituary) from the work of Mantuan composers of the period, including Claudio Monteverdi, the Italian master who was Stevens' particular passion. Monteverdi's patron was none other than Duke Vincenzo.

The play traces Vincenzo's life from his eighteenth year until his death in 1612, framed in "choric narration" (Savage, "The Radio Plays of Henry Reed") spoken by his wives and mistresses.

In Poets of Great Britain and Ireland 1945-1960, vol. 27 of The Dictionary of Literary Biography (Detroit: Gale Research, 1984), Douglas Cleverdon says:
Vincenzo is a remarkable work. Its understanding of human character, its erotic power, and its deep compassion are conjoined with delicate satire and delicious comedy. The language ranges from enchanting descriptions of the rose gardens of Colorno to witty bantering between lovers or the biting invective of family quarrels or the anguish of love nobly controlled. There are scenes that haunt the memory: Francesco de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and his mistress Bianca Cappello lying together on their deathbed, unable to reach each other for one last kiss, but never renouncing their love though it condemned them to an eternity of damnation; or Vincenzo and his five-year-old Silvio sharing, entranced, the sufferings depicted in the seventeenth-century composer Monteverdi's "Lament of Ariadne" as she mourns the departure of Theseus. After Vincenzo explains that "in the end you will see that she is rescued and made happy by Bacchus, the god of wine," Silvio asks, "Are unhappy ladies always rescued from their sorrow by the god of wine?," and Vincenzo responds, "Very frequently, yes."’ (p. 280)
A recording of the two-hour broadcast of Vincenzo is available from Schola Antiqua, a version produced by Stevens' Accademia Monteverdiana. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a 20-minute audio clip, to get you started, opening with those 'enchanting descriptions of the rose gardens of Colorno':

Vincenzo, by Henry Reed (8MB .mp3 file)



1505. Orwell, George. "Young Writers." Review of New Writing and Daylight (Summer 1943), edited by John Lehmann. Spectator (30 July 1943): 110.
Orwell says of "The End of an Impulse," Reed's criticism of the Auden-Spender school of poetry, 'Henry Reed's essay contains some valuable remarks on the dangers of group literature.'


Stale Cakes, Small Sherries

Michael Millgate is a Hardy scholar. He may be the preeminent Hardy scholar, having written or edited innumerable biographies and collections. In several of these, he acknowledges assistance and contributions made by Henry Reed.

In 1936, Reed graduated from the University of Birmingham, having written his MA thesis on Thomas Hardy's early novels. Afterward, his plan was always to write a "Life of" Hardy. He called upon Hardy's widow, Florence, at their house in Dorset, Max Gate, and was given some access, at least, to letters and papers there.

Reed's goal was to create a biography based on recollections of those who had known Hardy, and to root out all the possible sources for his work. But this grand undertaking never came to fruition. Earning a living by reviewing books must have been difficult, and then there was the intervention of the Second World War. Finding success scripting radio plays for the BBC, Reed finally abandoned the biography sometime in the mid-1950s. The most he had to show for his labors was a 1955 Third Programme broadcast, "The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A Study."

Millgate has contributed a chapter to Thomas Hardy: Text and Contexts (Mallett, 2002) called "The Hunter-Gatherers: Some Early Hardy Scholars and Collectors," which illuminates Reed's efforts and contributions to the field of Hardyana, and his correspondence with other scholars. This includes a reference to a letter from Howard Bliss to Richard L. Purdy, written in 1949, in which Bliss refers to Reed as Hardy's "Literary Biographer" (p. 199n).

That letter is in the Richard L. Purdy Collection of Thomas Hardy, at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which contains every kind of Reed goodies: corrected galleys, typescripts, and proofs. The Beinecke looks like a gorgeous building with almost futuristic facilites: wouldn't it be a hoot to ride the train up to Connecticut for a looksee? Simple as a twelve-hour train ride.

Millgate concludes his piece with some sage advice, based on personal experience no doubt, for any scholar or collector making inquiries toward or visiting some private literary collection:
‘Anyone contemplating such a visit, however, should certainly write well in advance and try to remember to send a prompt thank-you letter afterwards. Upon arrival, it's well to wipe your shoes on all available doormats, express admiration and/or gratitude for your host's weak coffee, stale cakes, small sherries, and aggressive pets, and suppress any early expression of your personal views on religion, politics, and social issues generally. It's also important to try and open precious volumes without breaking their spines, to avoid leaving sweaty finger-marks on the manuscripts of Hardy poems or Keats letters, to reserve one's more intrusive requests until some degree of personal rapport has been established, and to think twice or indeed several times before seeking to ingratiate oneself with elegant connoissers or the owners of stately homes by gifts of cheap wine.’
Wouldn't it be marvelous if one day, some brash, young scholar knocked on your door, dragged in their muddy feet, offered you a bottle of last year's Merlot and smeared their ink-stained fingers all over your precious database?

«  Hardy Beinecke Library  0  »


1504. Ludwig, Jennifer. "Lessons of the War: Henry Reed." In vol. 2, Literature of War: Experiences, edited by Thomas Riggs. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 2012. 359-361.
A relatively lengthy assessment of Reed's influences, position, and the impact resulting from his famous sequence of poems, Lessons of the War.


Buy Books By the Page

In a November 3rd press release, Amazon.com has announced plans for a new digital book program, Amazon Pages, which will allow customers to purchase online access to any page or section of a book, as permitted by the publisher.

Another program, Amazon Upgrade, will allow customers who buy books to upgrade their service to include unlimited online access to the entire text.

"In collaboration with our publishing partners," says Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, "we're working hard to make the world's books instantly accessible anytime and anywhere."

«  Amazon  0  »


1503. King, Francis. Yesterday Came Suddenly: An Autobiography. London: Constable, 1993. 79-80.
Mentions Henry Reed and Angus Wilson making fun of the Bletchley Park Writers' Circle.



1st lesson:

Reed, Henry (1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8 December 1986.

Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945. Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.

Author of: A Map of Verona: Poems (1946)
The Novel Since 1939 (1946)
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel (1947)
Lessons of the War (1970)
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (1971)
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971)
Collected Poems (1991, 2007)
The Auction Sale (2006)


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